By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR – Success has come to town with a Virtual Learning Center, which works with public schools to help at-risk high school students earn credits online and on site with staff support.
Success VLC, with 23 locations throughout Michigan, helps students, age 14 to 21, complete high school credits needed to graduate, and meets Michigan Merit Curriculum requirements. Co-founder Dallas Bell said Success VLC served 2,700 students last year, and expect to reach 3,000 students this year.
The Taylor location, 24680 Eureka, provides a physical location with computers and staff support for students, who are given laptops and a mobile hot spot to do coursework at any location, at any time.
The program also helps students who have physical or mental health issues which make a traditional school environment challenging, as well as students who work or have family members for whom they must care. It also provides home-schooled students with curriculum support.
Bell said when he was working as a special education teacher and as a reserve police officer seven years ago, he saw students who left school and did not make good choices for their future.
“I thought if we could find a way to help them earn their high school diploma, they would have a chance to not only make a difference for their family, but for the community they live in,” he said.
Bell said they started the first virtual learning center in Greenville with 12 students, and as it grew, other communities asked for help setting up programs.
“We focus on outcomes and what the kids need,” he said.
Bell said some students come to the center when they are credit deficient and at risk of not graduating with their high school class. Others who left school may have a job and cannot get back into a traditional school situation without losing their source of income. Still others may have mental health issues.
“Most of them have been out in the real world, and realize without a high school diploma it is hard to move ahead or make a living,” Bell said.
He said state full-time equivalency funding covers the program cost.
Potential VLC student Alexus Watson, 17, of Taylor, said she needs a learning program that allows her to take care of her 4-month-old daughter, Autumn.
Prospective enrollee Sam Crump, 18, of Wyandotte, who left high school during her junior year, said her goal is to earn a high school diploma. She said she learned about the program through social media, and being able to work at her own pace and around her work schedule appealed to her.
“I work full-time, and I have to work around that,” said Crump, who is a Tim Hortons supervisor. “I have to go to work early in the morning, so I’ll work (on classes) in the afternoon and at night.”
After getting her high school diploma, Crump said she hopes to study fine arts in college, with the goal of becoming an illustrator and a writer.
Success VLC Regional Director Jamie Dunn said the center will operate from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and may extend its hours to 5 p.m., but students are not required to go to the building, and may work remotely. He said students work on one class at a time.
“When they come into the center, it could be because they need help, or they need a nice, safe place to come, or for any reason,” Dunn said. “They concentrate on one subject at a time. For a lot of our students, a traditional system is not working for them. One class at a time works just beautifully.”
Dunn said virtual learning centers provide students with choices. The Taylor location has 40 computer work stations, and they expect 10 percent of the students to come in to the actual center building, while the rest will work remotely.
“The traditional model that you and I have gone through hasn’t worked for a lot of kids,” Dunn said. “We just want to let them know that there are options for them.”
Co-founder Anita Bell said her daughter’s struggle with dyslexia taught her first-hand the challenges some students face in a traditional environment.
“All our kids learn differently, so let’s teach them differently,” she said. “This is more one-on-one tutoring support, we treat them as an individual and we care about them.”
Mayor Rick Sollars said it is exciting to have Success VLC in Taylor.
“It is a fantastic opportunity and it is a beautiful building, and they have obviously made a big commitment to the city and the program,” he said. “I think it is a great start and they are going to be fantastic.”
For more information about Success Virtual Learning Centers go to successvlc.com.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected].)